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NEW DELHI: Video streaming platforms in India may have started the trend of direct-to-digital releases amid the covid-19 pandemic by acquiring medium-budget and niche films. However, with cinema theatres still not allowed to reopen after having been shut for five months, over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms are looking at bringing home mainstream, big star-cast Bollywood films that would have had tremendous appeal at the box office. And for this, they are willing to pay upwards of 100 crore per film.

With Varun Dhawan-starrer Coolie No.1 now joining the list of OTT offerings speculated to be snapped up by Amazon Prime Video, the floodgates have truly opened, say media experts, for big films to no longer be out of bounds for digital releases. Last week, Amazon also announced the acquisition of Tamil superstar Suriya’s Soorarai Pottru, a huge breakthrough for the south Indian industry.

With these deals, OTTs have graduated to shelling out 120-130 crore per film compared with the 60-65 crore offered for early acquisitions like Gulabo Sitabo.

Media and entertainment industry experts say the formerly inaccessible big productions going digital is a combination of various factors.

“When the first movie sales happened in the initial phase of the lockdown, many producers anticipated they could wait for three to four months even though they had lost the pre-holiday period in the summer but that they would make it in time for the festivals," said Jehil Thakkar, partner at Deloitte India. “But knowing that they may now not be able to take advantage of that either and going by the public psyche, the holding cost of a film becomes quite high."

Nachiket Pantvaidya, group chief operating officer, Balaji Telefilms Ltd and CEO, ALTBalaji that has a title called Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare coming up on Netflix, said the uncertainty over theatre viewing is short-term, and will pass soon.

The increasing rate of movie title acquisitions in the industry is only indicative of all stakeholders adapting to the changing scenario and making the best of what is available.

Streaming services, on the other hand, Thakkar said, are being driven by the need to work with a constrained supply window as there is no fresh original content with shoots only having resumed in the past few weeks.

“Together, the OTTs have added around four to five million new subscribers to the overall ecosystem in the past few months; so that also enables their capacity to now buy these big films," said Neeraj Roy, founder and CEO, Hungama Digital Media that runs the Hungama video and audio streaming apps.

Incidentally, the Coolie No.1 team which did not respond to Mint’s queries for the story, had emphasized it was only looking at a theatrical release a couple of months ago. Even as two other biggies, Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi and sports drama ’83 remain committed to a theatrical release for Diwali and Christmas respectively, the two don’t rule out other possibilities entirely.

"We’re desperately waiting for theatres to reopen but may have to circle back to other options," said Reliance Entertainment Group CEO Shibasish Sarkar whose company has co-produced both films. The ultimate release strategy for these films may have to see a mix of theatrical and digital, much like Walt Disney’s Mulan that is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar in the US but will release in theatres in many other countries.

"We’re keeping all options open, Sarkar said.

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